Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? (Matthew 26:52-53)
Twelve legions is 72,000 angels. During the time of Hezekiah, one angel struck dead 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in a single night. Even setting aside his own deity (through which the world was made), Jesus had amazing power at his disposal. With a word he could stop all the pain and crush all his enemies.
And his enemies certainly deserved to be crushed. Each time I read the passion account, I’m staggered by man’s ability to shamelessly dehumanize another person. The authorities weren’t just carrying out a sentence on an apparently guilty man; they were making sport of the accused and doing everything they could to strip him of all dignity.
Matthew briefly records what happened when Jesus was initially taken before the Jewish council: “Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, saying, ‘Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?'” (Matthew 26:67-68).
Luke records the same event with a few extra details:
Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him. They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” And they said many other things against him, blaspheming him. (Luke 22:63-65)
After this, the Jewish leaders tried to persuade the Romans to carry out their sentence. Pilate was confused about how to proceed but when he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he saw a chance to offload the problem and sent him to Herod. There, Jesus received the same treatment:
When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other. (Luke 23:8-12)
It got worse once Pilate finally conceded to the Jewish demands and handed him over to be crucified.
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him. (Matthew 27:27-31)
Pilate apparently assigned a handful of his personal soldiers to prepare Jesus for crucifixion. These men, however, decided to gather up a few of their buddies (a battalion was probably about 600 men) and have some fun. So 600 “men” stripped Jesus naked, put a royal robe on him along with the crown of thorns, beat him, spit on him and taunted him.
The mockery didn’t end there, but continued even as the people watched a bloodied, naked man slowly dying on a cross:
And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:35-39)
Now, when we juxtapose the cruelty of Jesus’ accusers with the power available to Jesus to crush them, it’s astounding. What amazing self-restraint! How could someone possibly experience such abuse and yet refrain from bringing swift justice on his abusers? Do you let the mosquito feast on your arm when you can easily swat it?
But the intensity of mockery that Jesus experienced makes his love all the more overwhelming. As Paul writes in Romans 5, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” These men’s cruelty couldn’t outpace God’s love. Although Jesus must have been tempted to put a quick end to these people, his love for the Father and his love for us prevailed. How reassuring it is to remember that if Jesus’ love didn’t falter here, it won’t falter ever.
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39)